by Fatima Sheriff
July 5, 2020
One Room With a View
There is no such thing as unskilled labour—only unseen, or unappreciated. Inspired by the Atlanta Washing Society of 1881, where African American laundresses united for better pay and agency, The Washing Society inspects modern laundromats, haunted by ghosts of past and present, toiling unobserved.
Margarita, having worked in laundry for four years, now suffers from a herniated disc, and when she does the maths this is hardly surprising. Thousands of pieces a day, tens of pounds gently arranged and carried—the enormity of this load is pressed upon the viewer. Nonetheless, the intimacy is still there; a stranger’s washing is very telling, a one-way window into a life, where the other side is usually in shadow.
Having performed this material in laundromats and venues in New York City under the title Every Fold Matters, Olesker and Sachs now adapt it for the screen. Centring on three laundresses and three actresses, the delicacy of these repetitive movements is mirrored by the preciseness of interpretive dance. The soundscape combines bells and chimes, fast-paced and constant, with the sliding of quarters, the sloshing of machines and the otherwise imperceptible sounds of folding.
Over several generations, these women have been poorly paid and fighting for recognition. From Jasmine Holloway’s performance as the spirit of the original 1881 movement, to her real-life matriarch Lulu who talks of striking in 1968, a thread of solidarity binds the piece together. It crosses language barriers too, through monologues in English, Chinese and Spanish, all echoing the same complaints.
Like Your Day is My Night, Sachs once again uses domesticity as an entry point into the life of New York City’s immigrant working class. Running like clockwork, the hands hidden from the customer are given centre stage in a beautiful translation of lived experience.
DIRECTORS: Lynne Sachs, Lizzie Olesker
SYNOPSIS: An investigation into the history, unpaid work, immigration, and the sheer math of doing laundry, weaving together observations, interviews and performances.